The Baker Institute hosts awards dinner for student entrepreneurs

Lehigh engineers were well-represented among those honored at the Baker Institute’s Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner held April 23. 

More than 20 Lehigh students shared their startup ideas to a crowd of faculty, staff, alumni, and Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs as they vied for two top prizes. The annual event recognizes student, faculty, and alumni innovation and celebrates those who support student entrepreneurship.

During the pre-dinner expo, guests met different student startups and voted for their favorite pitch with “Baker Bucks" to determine the People’s Choice Award winner. Ideas ranged from Volta (Sophia Eschenbach-Smith ’20, Matthew Gunton '22, Dave Jha '22), a luxury messenger bag featuring technology that securely prevents wireless signals from entering or exiting to Luminae (Zhané Jackson '18 '19G), a service that eliminates the guessing game when it comes to purchasing hair products. The winner was Yabo LLC (Max Mastbaum ‘18 ‘19G, Tom Macon ‘19, and Dario Sabidussi '19), a mobile platform that enhances the in-dining experience by making paying a restaurant bill or closing a bar tab quicker, easier, and safer.

The Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer '55 Grand Prize was determined during dinner, when three startup teams pitched live for the audience that included three guest judges: Alita Friedman '87 '17P '19P, Brent Rosenthal '88, and Marlena Sarunac '08 '18G. This award serves as the culmination for the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer '55 EUREKA! Competition Series. Throughout the academic year, students compete in monthly competitions, pitching their startup ideas for the chance to win mentoring and funds. Students are encouraged to progress through three stages, improving from early ideation in stage 1, to prototyped ideas in stage 3. 

The three teams that progressed the furthest this year were tapped to pitch live for their shot at the $5,000 Grand Prize, which was awarded to Preff (Dom Allen '20, Cameron Cipriano '21, Jack Cunngingham '21, Will Peracchio '21), a dedicated social media network that facilitates in-person meetups and leads to hyper-focused advertising from restaurants. The team plans to use the funds to travel to the National Restaurant Association Show this summer to learn more about the industry and introduce Preff to new audiences. 

Additional recognitions

  • Twelve student entrepreneurs were recognized with the Leonard P. Pool Prize, given to rising juniors and seniors who possess the entrepreneurial spirit. 
  • Michael Wu '20 was awarded the Donald E. Flinchbaugh Memorial Endowed Scholarship, given to students who combine the study and practice of technology, engineering, and manufacturing.
  • Boniface Kyalo '22 received recognition as a Davis Projects for Peace winner, an award from the Kathryn W. Davis Foundation that funds grassroots projects at American colleges and universities.
  • The John B. Ochs Award for Faculty Achievement in Entrepreneurship Education at Lehigh, named for the recently retired Lehigh faculty member, was presented to Ganesh Balasubramanian, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics.
  • President John Simon '19P presented the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship to Joan F. Thalheimer, who, together with her late husband and metallurgical engineering alum, John M. Thalheimer '55, endowed Lehigh with a gift in 2005 that has helped grow and sustain the entrepreneurial immersion programs. The award is named for Lehigh’s 12th president, Gregory Farrington, and is annually given to a person who has made a positive impact on the Lehigh entrepreneurial community.

Read the full story in the Lehigh University News Center.

Story and photo by Samantha McGinty Dutton

Dom Allen '20, Cameron Cipriano '21, Will Peracchio '21 and John Cunningham '21

The Preff team won the grand prize of $5,000. Team members are Dom Allen '20, Cameron Cipriano '21, Will Peracchio '21 and Jack Cunningham '21.

Joan F. Thalheimer with Lisa Getzler

Joan F. Thalheimer, left, who won the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship, with Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute.